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Up to 21,000 pregnant women leave jobs because of safety risks

25 April 2016

The Women and Equalities Committee hears evidence from two panels, focusing on the Government's plan for action on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.


Tuesday 26 April 2016, The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House

At 10.30am

  • Samantha Rye, National Women's Committee Secretary, Fire Brigades Union (FBU)
  • Scarlett Harris, Women's Equality Officer, TUC
  • Siobhan Endean, National Officer for Equalities, Unite

At 11.30am


The inquiry follows a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and Department for Business Enterprise and Skills, which found that whilst 84% of employers believed that supporting women during pregnancy and maternity was in the interests of their organisation, 77% of mothers reported they had negative and possible discriminatory experiences.

Chair's comments

Committee Chair Maria Miller said:

"There is a worrying mismatch between good employer intentions and poor experiences for women. Our inquiry is looking at what needs to be done to close that gap."

Purpose of the session

This session examines the EHRC's recommendations to Government and the approach which it has set out in its response:

  • How practical and hard hitting are the recommendations?
  • Is the Government doing enough?
  • Should the Government be providing more support to businesses or taking a harder line on illegal practices?

Health and Safety

The BIS/EHRC research found that 4% of mothers they questioned left their job because of a failure to tackle health and safety risks, which could equate to up to 21,000 women a year. These women were more likely to work in hotels, restaurants and social work.

Health and safety assessments are particularly important in higher risk roles as changes to duties are more likely to be needed. Pregnant firefighters, for example, have to be removed from attending operational incidents because of the risk of toxin inhalation and other health and safety issues, but this does not have to mean removal from their normal place of work. The FBU has raised concerns about women being moved to desk jobs of little value, disrupting their usual shift pattern.

Health and Safety Executive

The Health and Safety Executive has agreed to take forward the EHRC's recommendations on health and safety to review current guidance and to work through existing partnership channels, particularly in sectors highlighted in the report. The Committee will look at whether this is enough to deal with health and safety concerns.

The panel will also consider the protection of women's legal rights to paid time off for antenatal care, maternity leave, maternity pay or allowance, and protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal.

Employers' views

The second panel focuses on employers' views and experiences, with a particular focus on best practice and proposals to tackle the issues raised in the report.

Discussion focus on a range of issues, including the benefits which witnesses' businesses have seen as a result of providing good support for women during pregnancy, maternity leave and on return to work; and different perspectives on the difficulties and barriers to supporting employees during pregnancy and as parents.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto